Baker's Best Bits #OIABMagic Flute
Die Zauberflöte, or The Magic Flute, is Mozart’s last opera and it premiered in the autumn of 1791 barely two months before the composer’s death. It is one of the most loved and often performed of Mozart’s operas perhaps because at its heart lies a perfectly simple tale of a damsel in distress who, by the end of the opera and after some twists and turns, is eventually united with her hero. Beneath the surface, however, lie many complex allegories and plenty of scope for bold interpretations of the story’s social, political, and cultural contexts.
There are such strong contrasts in musical styles between the different characters. The music of the Queen of the Night’s two arias, both technically demanding and splendidly ornate and powerful, contrasts strongly with the more folk-like melodies of the young, spritely and, in some ways, naïve Papageno. Similarly, the trios sung by the feisty and ambitious “young ladies” (servants of the Queen) differ from the ensemble moments featuring the priests and the spirits, who embody calmness and order in their smooth hymn-like choral style. Here’s one of my favourite choral moments.
The characters Papageno and Papagena share a fantastically cheeky duet towards the end of the opera. Mozart plays on the rhythm of their names in the vocal lines and textures that he writes, weaving together jovial musical display that exudes energy and excitement. These emotions, and a huge range more, are demonstrated brilliantly in the overture to the opera, which is a masterful display of the composer’s command of a myriad of musical styles and structures. Mozart shows off his ability to write Fugues with complex counterpoint, but he also treats the entire structure as though it was one of his Sonatas or Symphonies, being in Sonata Form. There are highly emotional dramatic moments with rich harmonic detail, but also subtle and delicate musical phrases – all woven together like a montage of Mozart’s musical genius. See how the spritely “Papageno / Papagena” rhythms of their duet in the picture above is subtly embedded in the overture, with its playful leaps and jumps shown here.
The music throughout the opera is as life giving as it is awe inspiring. There are moments of terror, especially in the Queen of the Night's infamous aria, but even her terrifyingly powerful music stirs the musical senses for the better and, in spite of the veil of evil intentions casting a dark shadow over the
character, brings us to love every moment of skillful singing required. The Queen of the Night’s second aria is recognisable and loved (feared?!) around the world. It uses the extreme range of the voice, demanding several top Fs from the Soprano.
But darkness and terror give way to light and love; Tamino's desperate wonderings during the opening sequence lead to serenity and harmony. Even the anguish and despair in poor Pamino's tear-jerking aria in Act 2 is jettisoned by positivity and beauty surrounding it. There are playful duets, exquisite trios, and triumphant choruses to boot. A mesmerising musical tour-de-force!
Sam Baker (Music Director - The Magic Flute)
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